On today's edition of Checking In With CanWNT, we've got goalkeeper Erin McLeod. The 29-year-old from St. Albert, Alberta tells us about sharing her experience with the next generation, learning about the true importance of teamwork, wearing different hats off the field of play and just what (if anything) the referee told her in that Olympic semifinal.
What have you been up to since the Olympics?
I have been doing a lot of appearances for a lot of different organizations and clubs; I've also been doing a lot of corporate speaking engagements. Really awesome. I've been a keynote speaker at a couple of those things. I've been doing a lot of speaking at schools and community centres, soccer clubs, which has been great.
I've also done a lot of coaching, especially with West Vancouver -- I did a month-and-a-half coaching gig there. I basically coached every single one of the teams once and worked with all the goalkeepers in the club, a couple of times, which was awesome. I also set up a goalkeeper academy while I was there.
I took a good month off after the Olympics, then I've been training in the gym, and training with a goalkeeper coach based out of Vancouver now... We've just finished our camp, seven-day camp, which involved a lot of baseline fitness testing. Just planning ahead now with the new North American league, being in touch with a lot of those clubs and trying to map out my future for the next couple of years.
You're also involved in a program called Grass 2 Gold. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Yeah, it's something that I'm doing with Melissa Tancredi. Basically the whole concept is we're coaching at the grassroots level, within the camp, trying to give them a taste of what it takes to reach the podium level. The camp that we're doing at the end of this month, we're inviting four U-17 national team players in, so it's also like a coaching mentorship program. We bring players in, we give them the drills, help coach them.
With the kids that we're coaching, with the last three head coaches we've had at the national team, because Melissa and I have both been doing it that long, just (using) the strengths from each coach, a bunch of their drills. We talk about our Olympic journey, about nutrition and recovery, things like speed and agility -- all things that you have access to as a national-team player, but don't always get those resources when you're younger. I think it's important for kids to have that exposure early so they can compete and develop as much as possible.
It seems there is a strong sense among the national-team players that it's important to share your experience and knowledge with the next generation. Why is that so important to you, personally?
Growing up, all my role models were male. I was lucky to find pockets of training, really good volunteers and people I had access to. I sought them out. Sometimes people don't know what's out there. We've been with the national team for 10 years now. At this stage we're not like the U.S. or Germany where, when one of their best players retire, they've got someone else to fill their shoes. We're not that fortunate right now, so we have to focus on that development in this country.
John Herdman said it in this camp: We have the second-highest participation rate in soccer in the world, behind the Americans. If we develop everyone properly, we should be one of the best in the world. That's what we want to pass along. To compete and to do as well as we did, it's addicting; you want to be able to share that with future generations. I think it's important, if we want to keep competing, we have to keep developing our players.
Canada does have some bright prospects at the goalkeeping position; are you optimistic about the future of the program at that position?
Oh yeah, definitely. Obviously every goalkeeper wants to start and wants to play for however long. If I didn't think I could make a difference for the next couple of years, then I wouldn't. I'm 29, I'm not a spring chicken anymore. But I know that I'm still getting better, I'm still learning, and I think the future for me looks bright with Canada.
For a number of years now, the senior national team has had two #1 goalkeepers in yourself and Karina LeBlanc. What's it been like having that relationship with her on the national team?
It's great. We've always been a pretty tight goalkeeper group. We've pushed each other for years. It is difficult, at times, because only one gets to play. But we've been very supportive of each other -- especially at this Olympics, we made a commitment to one another that we'd try our best to make each other at our top form, come the Olympics. I think it's a pretty cool thing that you can make that kind of commitment to your competition. I've been very fortunate to be able to train with her.
You got the call for the first game of the Olympics, against the reigning world champions Japan. What was your mindset going into that game?
I think in the past, I've been a nervous player. This time it was about enjoying it. With John and Simon and the whole coaching staff, I know they're the hardest-working coaching staff in the world, but we also did as much preparation as we could. Literally I've never worked so hard -- not just on the field, but off the field, watching video, going over tactics or small details. When you go into a tournament knowing you've done your homework, you know the other team, you've done everything to prepare physically and mentally, you just have to go out and enjoy it. That's what it's all about.
Does the fact that this was Canada's second Olympics in women's soccer allow you to relax a bit more?
It's funny, I actually think at the first Olympics, we didn't have that much pressure. We were just happy that we had a team sport participating. This time it was different. We had a meeting with the Olympic Committee in January right after we qualified; they basically, indirectly, told us we were the "golden girls".
We were expected, I think, from the beginning to do very well at the Olympics. They put a lot of time and money into our team, so expectations were a lot different, but because we were so well-prepared, I think we felt less pressure going into this game.
A teammate of yours said she considered the game against Sweden to be the team's most complete performance of the tournament. Would you agree with that assessment?
For me, I think the U.S. game was the game... I've been on this team for 12 years, and I've never seen some of these players play like that. Against Sweden, we rallied and we didn't give up and we got better and better as the game went on, and we found confidence and belief in ourselves as the game went along. I think that was the beginning, when we started to click, because after that every game was a different class. I can agree that was the game where we started to be really connected.
You wrote after the Olympics, about the semifinal game against the U.S., "Earlier in my career, I would have been angry with officials, I would have been livid with the competition, I would have been furious with myself." What has changed for you that guided your approach and reaction?
To put it bluntly -- before this year, I was kind of a selfish player. It was always about me. This year I really bought in, and really wanted to make my commitment about the team first and me second. I felt after that game that everybody on the team knew that I gave it absolutely everything that I had, and that's all you can do. In the past, I wouldn't have included the team, I wouldn't have felt the team's support.
The fact that after that game nobody blamed me for a second, it just proved that we really were a team -- and as much as I had changed and was behind them, they were 100% behind me as well. In that sense, that's how it was so different. No one looked at Marie-Eve (Nault) after the handball, nobody blamed anyone. I know we were emotional after the game, and we kinda said some things about the refereeing. But the fact that we didn't sell each other out, and didn't blame anyone on our team for a second, it spoke to how we are a team.
To clear up any lingering confusion for fans -- what, if anything, did the referee say to you prior to that moment in the semifinal?
The linesman, at half, did say "hurry up your kicks". I assumed she meant goal kicks. Every time I take a goal kick, I set it pretty quickly and I'm ready to go. I never thought that it would be for the ball from my hand, because no one ever gets called for that, right? So the thought didn't even cross my mind.
I remember one time I was on the ground and I saw her doing the "hurry up" sign, so I hurried up, and then the next time, I got called. I got it from the linesman, I never got any sort of official warning from the head referee. She never carded me or anything. It could have been done differently, but I did also have the ball for longer than six seconds in my hands, so...
Goalkeepers have a way of seeing the big picture on the field, so perhaps you're the best one to ask: Did you get a sense of just how big the team's Olympic journey was, both for you guys and for the fans back at home?
You know, first of all, it's kind of like a bubble, you don't really know what's going on in the outside world. We made a pact as a team to ignore social media during the tournament, so we didn't really know how many people were following or watching. I think I got a sense of it after that semifinal game. I remember going back to my hotel room and I had I don't know how many Facebook messages, and my Twitter account went crazy -- not just me, every single person on the team.
Apparently one in three Canadians saw that game, or parts of that game. It's kind of a hard number to wrap your head around. But coming back and doing speaking engagements across the country, every time I ask who saw the game, everyone puts their hands up. It's been really overwhelming, and really an incredible thing not just for women's soccer but for soccer in general in Canada, that that many people are paying attention.
Your website is split into the athlete, the speaker and the artist. Do you think it's important for athletes to maintain these separate identities?
Yeah, definitely. Soccer is what I do, it's not who I am. I definitely think it's important, because as wonderful as playing soccer is, you can only play it for so long. At some point in my life, I'm sure, just like a lot of other players, you want to be known as what you do or are passionate about what you do afterwards.
I think you have to build on that as well, because as athletes I feel that we have access to a lot of people and resources and education. We're very fortunate in that sense, so I think you take advantage of those opportunities when you're still playing so that when you are done, you have other opportunities.
You're one of the players still with the national team who took part in the 2002 U19 Women's World Championships on Canadian soil. What would it mean to you to be able to play on home soil again in 2015?
I think it's an absolute honour and privilege, especially after the support we got in this tournament, to be able to do that in my lifetime. I think the cool thing is that we're actually getting better as a team. To do it on home turf, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I think we're all really excited about it and just pleased that the CSA has been really behind this, and I hope it has a ripple effect in this country, that we have a stable soccer culture moving forward.
Looking back at all that's happened in 2012, how would you sum it up?
The biggest thing I've learned this year is when you put the team first, and you put everything you can into a team, every individual becomes better and stronger and, I think, a better person. You can tell, even now in camp, that we have this bond that we'll have forever. That's what makes a winning team. There's tactics and all those things, but I think because we have that, we're always going to succeed. That's, I think, what I'm most proud of.